Refining the Retail Experience

Retail operations make up a significant portion of the foodservice business on many college campuses. Three veteran foodservice directors offer advice on how to make retail more profitable.

As college dining operations face increased pressure to produce profits while simultaneously cutting costs, more foodservice directors are turning to the retail segment to more efficiently achieve those goals. On some campuses, retail is evolving and growing enough to rival traditional residential dining.

“We must meet and exceed the expectations of our guests,” said Dean Wright, dining services director at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. “To do that we have to determine exactly what they want, but those expectations constantly vary.”

So what are some steps they take when attempting to build successful retail operations? Wright, who oversees 22 different retail outlets at BYU, said there are several rules he follows.

“The first step is to understand your customer and the next is to understand the limitations a location may place on you,” he noted. “You must also be creative; understand the flavors and atmospheres that enhance an experience. We always say that the customer doesn’t want to eat in a surgical suite. They don’t like sterile environments; they want fabrics and wall coverings that add a sense of excitement and purpose. Lastly, make sure all of the marketing, merchandising and promotions are tied together so there is continuity and a sense of purpose tied to the location.”

For Julaine Kiehn, director of campus dining services at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo., it is important to maintain authenticity when creating an in-house brand, but at the same time it must be able to compete with any national brand.

“It definitely has to look and feel like a national brand,” she said. “Identifying the brand or image and staying true to it is key. You have to ask yourself what it is going to be as you develop the menu, the look of the restaurant and the type of service it will have. It’s really important to clarify that. Then, create and deliver on it.”

Kiehn, who supervises 15 retail stores and 6 residential dining facilities, identified customer satisfaction as the most important factor for success, but also suggested employing a little individuality, too.

“They want what they want when they want it,” she said, “but one thing we’ve learned is less is more. Give them more of what they want. Give them the items they really like more often and try less to be everything to everybody. Rather than providing a wide variety of the same thing in six different locations, narrow specific identities instead of offering cookie-cutter versions of each other.”

At Ball State University, in Muncie, Ind., Dining Services Director Jon Lewis said it is most important to provide a retail operation that fits with the equipment you have available and also not to get caught up in political causes, something that’s easy to do on a college campus.

“Each operation requires different equipment and that often dictates what you can and cannot carry,” he said. “If you don’t have the right equipment to make a sandwich or [implement] a prepared-to-order station, then you can’t provide that kind of stuff. At the same time, it’s also important to carry what the customer wants as opposed to what you think they want. It’s easy to get sidetracked by causes, like cage-free eggs, but if customers don’t want it, it’s just not worth doing.”

More From FoodService Director

Managing Your Business
shaking hands graphic

Anyone who has moseyed down the self-help section of the local bookstore, probably has picked up on the mantra that positive relationships are built on trust. Employer-employee bonds are no different, according to research published in the January-February issue of Harvard Business Review. The study reports that employees at high-trust companies experience 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days and 76% more engagement. Here’s how operators can start putting those numbers on the board.

Putting in the effort

At the University of...

Ideas and Innovation
bowling ball pins

We patterned our chef culinary competition after the one pioneered by the University of Massachusetts. This year, 11 teams of college chefs registered. Each team gets the same market basket and has two hours to prepare three dishes. The starting times have to be staggered and nobody wants the 6 a.m. slot, so instead of randomly assigning times, this year we took the teams bowling and used their scores to determine starting times. The two teams with the highest combined bowling score got to pick their time slot first. Going bowling built camaraderie and team spirit before the teams even got...

Managing Your Business
performance review anxiety

For all the most obvious reasons, managers and staff don’t always agree. But both sides can get behind retiring annual performance reviews, according to a January survey from software company Adobe, which quit the practice in 2012. There, 64% of surveyed workers and 62% of supervisors consider yearly evaluations outdated.

“My philosophy is if I have to wait a year to tell you where you stand, it’s a little too late,” says Al Ferrone, senior director of dining services at the University of California at Los Angeles. Ferrone and other operators are reforming the meetings to add real...

Ideas and Innovation
woman sick phone bed

Our employees have paid time off, but if they don’t call in at least one hour before their scheduled shift, their PTO will be docked for the day. We also assign points for unapproved absences. Everyone starts with a freebie, and when they get to 4, then we start the disciplinary action process. When a staff member gets to 10 points, that is grounds for termination.

FSD Resources